“A little piece of Mars on earth.”

“Is that Cal’s piano there? I heard about the music critics who tried to burn it once. Then there were the customers who mobbed the shop one day, yelling and showing their funny hair.”

“Cal’s all right,” I said.

“Have you looked in a mirror lately?”

“He tried.”

“Just on one side of you. Remind me, next time you’re over, my dad did some barbering, too. Taught me. Why are we standing here in the doorway? Afraid the neighbors will talk if you, hell. There you go again. No matter what I say, it seems to be the truth. You’re the genuine article, aren’t you? I haven’t seen a bashful man since I turned twelve.”

She stuck her head further in.

“God, all the junk. Don’t you ever pick up? What’s this, reading ten books at a time, half of them comics? Is that a Buck Rogers disintegrator there by your typewriter? Did you send away box tops?”

“Yep,” I said.

“What a dump,” she crowed, and meant it for a compliment.

“All that I have is yours.”

“That bed isn’t even big enough for club sandwich sex.”

“One partner always has to stay on the floor.”

“Jesus, what year is that typewriter you’re using?”

“1935 Underwood Standard, old but great.”

“Just like me, huh, kid? You going to invite the ancient celebrity in and unscrew her earrings?”

“You’ve got to go back and look in Fannie’s icebox, remember? Besides, if you slept over tonight, spoons.”

“Plenty of cutlery, but no fork?”

“No fork, Constance.”

“The memory of your mended underwear is devastating.”

“I’m no boy David.”

“Hell, you’re not even Ralph. Goodnight, kid. It’s me for Fannie’s icebox. Thanks!”

She gave me a kiss that burst my eardrums and drove away.

Reeling with it, I somehow made it to bed.

Which I shouldn’t have done.

Because then I had the Dream.

Every night the small rainfall came outside my door, stayed a moment, whispered, and went away. I was afraid to go look. Afraid I might find Crumley standing there, drenched, with fiery eyes. Or Shapeshade, flickering and moving in jerks, like an old film, seaweed hung from his eyebrows and nose. . . .

Every night I waited, the rain stopped, I slept.

And then came the Dream.

I was a writer in a small, green town in northern Illinois, and seated in a barber chair like Cal’s chair in his empty shop. Then someone rushed in with a telegram that announced I had just made a movie sale for one hundred thousand dollars!

In the chair, yelling with happiness, waving the telegram, I saw the faces of all the men and boys, and the barber, turn to glaciers, turn to permafrost, and when they did pretend at smiles of congratulation their teeth were icicles.

Suddenly I was the outsider. The wind from their mouths blew cold on me. I had changed forever. I could not be forgiven.

The barber finished my haircut much too quickly, as if I were untouchable, and I went home with my telegram gripped in my sweating hands.

Late that night, from the edge of the woods not far from my house, in that small town, I heard a monster crying beyond the forest.

I sat up in bed, with crystals of cold frost skinning my body. The monster roared, coming nearer. I opened my eyes to hear better. I gaped my mouth to relax my ears. The monster shrieked closer, half through the forest now, thrashing and plunging, crushing the wildflowers, frightening rabbits and clouds of birds that rose screaming to the stars.

I could not move or scream myself. I felt the blood drain from my face. I saw the celebratory telegram on the bureau nearby. The monster shouted a terrible cry of death and plunged again, as if chopping trees along the way with its horrible scimitar teeth.

I leaped from bed, seized the telegram, ran to the front door, threw it wide. The monster was almost out of the forest. It brayed, it shrieked, it knocked the night winds with threats.

I tore the telegram into a dozen pieces and threw them out over the lawn and shouted after them.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray